FARMINGTON- Over the third quarter of the school year, American Sign Language students at Mount Blue High School have been working towards an exciting goal.
Not only would they be showcasing their own songs and poems in sign language, they would also be able to meet and watch Sean Forbes perform live. They would participate in a workshop led by Forbes, a Deaf rapper, drummer, songwriter, and expert communicator.
All of this came to fruition on Friday night at the Bjorn Auditorium, and the excitement and pride of students, teachers, teacher aids, and volunteers was greatly deserved as they put on an outstanding show.
The ASL program has steadily grown at Mt. Blue and will hopefully continue to do so. Gail Carlson, who teaches the class, has aspirations of making it a full time program by next year. Her passion about what she does transfers into her work and her students are the true beneficiaries. Much like Sean Forbes, she believes in bringing her life experiences into her work, sharing openly with the student about her lifetime of experiences as a Deaf woman.
Sean Forbes, whose passion for music began early and was nurtured by his two parents who were musicians, was available to students during the day before the show and spoke to them about his life and what being a member of the Deaf community means to him.
Many approach his story from his so called ‘loss’ of hearing. When you see him sign and hear him speak, it is clear this man has lost nothing. His confidence and passion speak through his music and he triumphs in the same way anyone else does in the music industry, by gaining a following that respects that passion and wants to see more of it.
Sean Forbes’ visit was nothing short of a when-one-door-closes-another-door-opens scenario. While Mrs. Carlson was making plans for what to do at the end of this quarter, her original idea was not able to commit due to other engagements and that left her back at square one. Sending out a few e-mails to Deaf celebrities and hoping for a response, Mr. Forbes sent her an e-mail she says she will always keep as a source of pride and accomplishment, for it got the wheels rolling on a spectacular event that students and the whole community could enjoy.
In Farmington the Deaf community can almost feel hidden at times. It is important for everyone to come together and see that this is not a language barrier to be intimidated by. While watching the students perform one could truly see their words come to life.
One particular student, Matthew Otte, performed a poem about his life story. It carted you through the emotional roller coaster of being abandoned on a bus as an infant in China, to the many foster homes and lonely situations, to meeting his mother for the first time and traveling to America to eventually become an American citizen. He, along with all the other students, clearly had a passion for the poems and songs they picked which showed with every performance.
Before intermission, all 33 students joined the stage to perform “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. The students donned white gloves and glasses, some held neon signs with different words written on them, and black lights lit everything up for a mesmerizing and moving translation of the song. The work this entire group put in to this performance showed with every movement they made on stage and while these students are still learning this language they showed a monumental amount of knowledge in what they have learned so far.
A former student of the Mount Blue ASL program, Olivia Martin, was a voice interpreter for the show and is an example of the program’s success. She is attending the University of New Hampshire and majoring in their translation program. Because of the classes she took in Farmington she will be able to graduate a year earlier than planned.
Throughout the year as part of a fundraising effort, the students and Mrs. Carlson do four or five craft fairs raising an average of $2,000. Between this money and a couple grants the school was able to host this event.
“It is not easy to find something for the kids in public schools to do with ASL without bringing the community to them. I needed to find something that would draw the community in. It also became more of an inspiration to help build a bridge between the Deaf and hearing communities,” Carlson said concerning her ever present desire to include as much community inclusion with the surrounding Deaf community as possible.
It was clear that she had, at the very least, achieved this for the show. As you looked around there were many moving hands in the audience, and short of being rude and ‘eaves-dropping’ on other people’s conversation, it was a welcome flurry of excitement between two communities that do not see nearly enough of one another.
You can learn more about Sean Forbes at his facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/deafandloud/, where there is a video from the Mt. Blue show. I encourage everyone to check out his various videos, you will not regret familiarizing yourself with his music.
All 33 Mt. Blue High School American Sign Language students signing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera under black lights.
Makenzie Seaward signing “Shooting Star” by Kari Kimmel.
Sean Forbes performs at Bjorn Auditorium, Mt. Blue Campus, Farmington. A large screen projects the words to his raps.